‘Art is just a way to force a new perspective on the familiar’ and that is exactly what the 17 short films, each made at home and with a phone over the past two months, in the Netflix anthology Homemade are trying to do
Queen Elizabeth gets quarantined with Pope Francis at the Vatican, then what happens? If you think out of the box, can you imagine some hanky-panky, maybe even skinny-dipping in the Vatican pool?
You’ll find out in just seven minutes, if you go on Netflix now and streamone of its latest gems, Homemade.Start with the second in the anthology of 17 short films, none of which runs longer than 11 minutes, one of whichruns no longer than five. After all, at the opening reel, Netflix will encourage you to “watch these films in any order.”
Of the films, among my favorites would be this. It’s called “Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the Edge of the Night),” a whimsical, Two Popes-reminiscentalmost-romance between the Roman pontiff and the Queen of England, by Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino. I did watch the anthology chronologically, however, and my proof that some artistic goal might have governed the order in which the films appear on the streaming site is how the first and the last films so effectively bookend the collection.
The opening short by French director and Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner for Les MisérablesLadj Ly, “Clichy-Montfermil,” along with the concluding short, “Ride It Out” by English-born Iranian-American auteur Anna Lily Amirpour, gives us a bird’s eye view not only of life in the still-unfolding pandemic but also of life as we can represent it in cinema under the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. “Art is just a way to force a new perspective on the familiar,” says Cate Blanchett, who dispassionately voices the narration in Amirpour’s bike tour of Covid-plagued Hollywood, with meaningful stops at the eerily deserted Chinese Mann Theater and Hollywood Boulevard.
All the films were made at home, or the surrounds, with a phone. Some were processed in remote collaboration with sound engineers or cinematographers or narrators while others were shot solo, particularly German actor Sebastian Schipper’s “Casino,” a light tale on mental breakdown as a result of tedium and isolation, which was done over a single weekend. For lack of actors, most filmmakers played themselves, as did Kristen Stewart in “Crickets,” a follow-up to her first work in the director’s chair, in which excruciatingly she explores insomnia. Otherwise, they put their family in the lead, as did American cinematographer Rachel Morrison in “The Lucky Ones,” where she writes a poignant love letter pointing out the silver linings in the Covid-19 cloud to her five-year-old son. In the “Unexpected Gift,” Bend It Like Beckhamdirector Gurinder Chadha, a British filmmaker of Indian origin, made a touching tribute to love and family in the context of seclusion and social distancing, with her own husband and children in the cast. So did Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Johnny Ma, who stars with his own family in “Johnny Ma,” an epistolary ode to his mother where he shares with her his adventures on lockdown in Mexico City, but his has the refreshing inclusion of a recipe for dumplings.
As with any anthology, some are better than others, but that, I guess, is a matter of personal taste. While the pandemic is the common thread that binds the films together, apart from limiting all entries to works shot at home, the perspective proves diverse, some going way out there, including American actress and film producer Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “Penelope,” also a directorial debut, in which her husband Peter Sarsgaard stars in an apocalyptic tale about somealien virus that disrupts the earth’s gravitational system. American director and screenwriter Antonio Campos ventures into stranger things in “Annex,” where two women and their daughter find a strange man washed up on the shore.
As a collective, Homemade magnifies moments we share in commonwith all of us shut off from each other. There are long stretches of boredom (“Feroza,” David Mackenzie), imaginative escapes (“Mayroun and the Unicorn,” Nadine Labaki and Khaled Mouzanar; “Espacios,”Natalia Beristáin), and contemplation (“Last Message,” Naomi Kawase). Zambian-Welsh director and screenwriter RunganoNyoni’s “Couple Splits Up While in Lockdown” is hilarious and spot-on, taking place completely as phone messages and videosbetween an estranged couple and their friends. In Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’sZoom-based “Last Call,” a playboy in an elderly home calls a woman of his rousing past, but I’ll stop here, lest I spoil it for you. There’s a musical, too, another favorite of mine, in Chilean directorSebastián Lelio’s “Algoritmo” with its solo star Amalia Kassai singing and dancing through the dullness of her domestic routine.
Homemade is a snapshot of where humanity is now as well as perhaps a glimpse into the future of cinema, at least until we see the end of the pandemic breakdown. Are these films short on account of logistical limitations? Yes and no. It’s a great idea. After all, no matter how long our days are and how much longer our nights are, no matter how agonizingly slow time goes by, especially under circumstances such as these, life is really just a short film.
‘Homemade’ now streams on Netflix.